d.m. Hector Catling

From the Telegraph:

Hector Catling, who has died aged 88, became director of the British School at Athens after playing a leading role in establishing a comprehensive archaeological field survey of the island of Cyprus.

In 1951 Catling, then a young Oxford student struggling to develop his career as an archaeologist, went out to Cyprus, as part of a two-year Goldsmith’s travelling scholarship, to assist Joan du Plat Taylor in her excavations of a Bronze Age shrine at Myrton-Pigadhes.

Over the next two years, with his wife and small daughter in tow, he criss-crossed the island to gather material for what would eventually be his magisterial Cypriot Bronzework in the Mycenaean World (1964), filing reports to AHS “Peter” Megaw, the first director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, which was then under British administration. “I began to develop an eye,” Catling recalled, “and found a lot of new sites here and there.”

Cyprus is fascinating to archaeologists because, owing to its location at the economic, political and cultural crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean, it is a repository for a rich variety of objects. Returning to Oxford, Catling had the idea of carrying out a comprehensive field survey of the island.

Peter Megaw supported the project, found a source of funding, and the Catlings moved from Oxford to Nicosia, with a stop in Athens to learn about Roman pottery from the finds at the Athenian Agora. Under Catling’s leadership, the newly-created Archaeological Survey of Cyprus began its first season in June 1955. A second team was put into the field in 1957.

The Survey, and Catling’s other work on the island, which included the publication of an Early Byzantine pottery factory at Dhiorios, revealed a rich medieval landscape almost unparalleled in the eastern Mediterranean, helping to place Cyprus at the centre of debates about the mechanisms of cultural exchange and island archaeology.

Catling’s four-year contract with the colonial government of Cyprus came to an end in 1959, and the island’s move to independence and the later Turkish invasion led to something of a hiatus. None the less, the Cyprus survey provided a model for similar projects elsewhere.

Hector William Catling was born on June 26 1924 and educated at Bristol Grammar School and St John’s College, Oxford, where he remained to take a doctorate on the Cypriot Bronze Age.

After his time in Cyprus, he returned to Oxford, becoming an assistant keeper and later senior assistant keeper in the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum. He remained there until his appointment in 1971 as Director of the British School at Athens.

During his time in Athens, Catling undertook a major dig at Knossos, leading a massive excavation of its main Early Iron Age cemetery which led to the publication of a lucid joint study with Nicolas Coldstream, Knossos North Cemetery, in 1996. He also led digs at the Menelaion, an important Mycenaean site in Sparta, where he discovered inscriptions proving that Helen of Troy was worshipped there alongside her husband Menelaus, and at the sanctuary of Zeus Messapeus at Tsakona.

In the 1960s, with Anne Millet, Catling had carried out pioneering optical emission spectography analysis of stirrup jars excavated at Thebes in 1921, which showed them to be Cretan in origin. His research into the provenance of ceramics led to the foundation, in 1973, of the Athens School’s Fitch Laboratory for Science-based Archaeology, equipped with an atomic absorption spectrometer and a multitude of other hi-tech gadgets.

After his retirement in 1989 Catling founded the Friends of the British School at Athens, serving as its honorary secretary until 2011.

He was appointed OBE in 1980 and CBE in 1989.

Hector Catling married, in 1948, Elizabeth Salter, who predeceased him in 2000. Their daughter and two sons survive him.

Hector Catling, born June 26 1924, died February 15 2013

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